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Archive: May 2008

Sign-Off: The Last Listener Column

Bill Watson might play a four-hour piece by Bach, and then slap it on again, just because he felt like it. Or he might interrupt a Mahler symphony mid-spin, deciding instead to recite poetry or blend news bulletins with reports from his "Roman Empire correspondent," Edward Gibbon. Long John Nebel, a former carnival barker who once sold lucky numbers on the streets of downtown Washington, filled the night with hours-long interviews with people who had traveled on flying saucers, which might be followed by a visit from Malcolm X, who might join his host in a lengthy discourse on the...

By Marc Fisher | May 31, 2008; 8:59 AM ET | Comments (0)

Tomorrow's Vote On Virginia GOP's Future

While Virginia's Republicans have been busy nominating candidates who are pure of passion for the party's conservative social positions and while the GOP has lost two straight governor's races and control of the state Senate, Virginia voters have made a historic shift over to the other party. A Pew research study finds that Virginians now identify themselves as Democrats by a 32-28 percent margin over Republicans, a 12-point drop for the GOP in just seven years. So when Virginia's Republican leaders and activists gather for their party convention tomorrow, they will not only be selecting a candidate to go...

By Marc Fisher | May 30, 2008; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Stadium Plan That Won't Pay Off

A soccer stadium in Anacostia would be a splendid addition to Washington's resurgence as a sports town. But the city has no business paying for such a facility or grabbing riverfront parkland to build it. Not all sports facilities are born alike. Over the past decade, as it has gone from zero major league sports teams to five, the District has learned that entertainment venues can be powerful engines of economic development. It's hard to walk around Washington's East End without seeing how Abe Pollin's sports arena inspired block after block of development, creating a bustling neighborhood of theaters, museums,...

By Marc Fisher | May 29, 2008; 8:07 AM ET | Comments (29)

Blogger of the Month: Greater Greater Washington

When a D.C. cabbie refused to take David Alpert from downtown Washington to a scruffy neighborhood clear across the city, the poor hack had no idea with whom he was dealing. Alpert, an energetic and street smart new addition to the Washington area's legion of bloggers, immediately got on the cell and worked his way up the chain of command of the District's taxi commission--even while he was still in the cab. Within minutes, Alpert had D.C. Taxi Commission Chairman Leon Swain on the phone, and Swain asked to speak to the recalcitrant driver, and faster than you can...

By Marc Fisher | May 28, 2008; 7:51 AM ET | Comments (4)

Today on Raw Fisher Radio: The MLK Memorial Controversy

The appearance of the planned memorial statue of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has turned out to be a controversial topic, as some were critical of original designs that were -- in some minds -- reminiscent of those sometimes found in totalitarian states. Today's edition of Marc Fisher's Raw Fisher Radio web broadcast features a discussion of the topic. It will be archived on the site for repeat or later listening....

By Washington Post Editors | May 27, 2008; 10:35 AM ET | Comments (0)

Alco-Pops And The Timid Governor

Why would Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley choose to make it easier for the makers of sweet-flavored malt beverages to market their wares to teenagers? Depending on whether you consider them an insidious invitation to underage drinking or a refreshing way to get young adults into drinking alcohol, you might call these products alcopops, "girlie drinks," or "spirit-flavored alcoholic beverages." Whatever you call them, Maryland has just taken a step in the opposite direction from California and other states that are trying to tighten regulations on the drinks, in effect making them more expensive in an effort to make them...

By Marc Fisher | May 27, 2008; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (14)

Hard Work And Tight Bonds In A D.C. School

Sister Mary Bourdon runs a school divided into two campuses. One is a spanking-new set of classrooms in a lushly equipped arts center in Southeast Washington. The other, five minutes away by car, is a warren of rooms in an old apartment complex where gunmen burst in one recent day, desperate to find a hideout. You won't see metal detectors or security officers at either campus of the Washington Middle School for Girls. Instead, you'll find parents clamoring to get their kids into the school. The parents look beyond the physical setting to what happens in these classrooms, which is...

By Marc Fisher | May 25, 2008; 9:16 AM ET | Comments (8)

The Menace of Ping Pong, The Horror of a Bench

The threats to peaceful living along a quiet stretch of Connecticut Avenue NW just keep on coming. First, as I reported earlier this month, an advisory neighborhood commissioner went after a pizza place that dared to put a ping pong table out on the sidewalk for families to enjoy. Now that same commissioner, Frank Winstead, a man with a special passion for policing violations of public space, has managed to get rid of the benches and patio table that had been outside Marvelous Market for a decade. Winstead, who has not returned calls or emails seeking comment, emailed the...

By Marc Fisher | May 23, 2008; 7:57 AM ET | Comments (38)

Nats Demand $100,000 A Day For Unfinished (?) Stadium

Night after night, tens of thousands of fans crowd into Nationals Park to watch baseball. The views are spectacular, the scoreboard is dazzling, the team can't hit -- ah, well, you can't have everything. But at least the stadium, against many expectations, got built on time and on budget. Or did it? A snippy legal battle between the Washington Nationals and the District government has been raging behind the scenes since February. Even now, a quarter of the way into the first season at Nats Park, the team's owners are demanding that the city cough up $100,000 a day in...

By Marc Fisher | May 22, 2008; 8:13 AM ET | Comments (16)

Schoolyard Dogs Redux: Should Parents Train Kids How To Act Around Dogs?

Do parents have an obligation to train their children how to act around dogs, just as dog owners should train their animals to be polite and obedient? Jodi Marcus, adoptions coordinator for a dog rescue group in Woodbridge in Prince William County, says yes. Marcus responded to my Sunday column about the face-off in Bethesda between dog owners and parents who want to protect their children from dogs on school grounds by inviting me to train my children so that they know how to behave around dogs, even if they have no intention of ever living with or near...

By Marc Fisher | May 21, 2008; 12:55 PM ET | Comments (26)

Afghanistan's Treasures: Something Worth Fighting For

The conflicts that dominate the world and impinge on American lives seem eternal. The president speaks of a war that will extend beyond our lifetimes. Our country tightens security as if expecting regular and devastating attacks. But starting Sunday at the National Gallery of Art, you can see a heartening and dazzling alternative. "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul," is not merely a collection of gold jewelry, painted glassware and royal booty from two thousand years ago, but rather, a startling story of courage, commitment, and cultural blending of the sort that seems impossible in the war-torn...

By Marc Fisher | May 21, 2008; 8:17 AM ET | Comments (0)

Union Station Photo Follies

Here we go again, though this time, the security obsession that is making life miserable for anyone who dares to take a photo in a public place seems to be winning out. Somehow, to security officials who see terrorism in every tourist's family snapshot, Union Station is a high-security zone in which a tourist's family photo translates into a threat against the nation. Last year's kerfluffle over whether overzealous security agents had the right to stop a pedestrian from taking pictures in downtown Silver Spring ended when Montgomery County's chief lawyer made it clear that even though the downtown...

By Marc Fisher | May 20, 2008; 7:53 AM ET | Comments (0)

DC's Newest Museum: Crime & Punishment

The new Museum of Crime and Punishment, which opens Friday across the street from the Abe Pollin Arena and the National Portrait Gallery, is another in Washington's growing supply of museums that aspire to be a blend of theme park and TV show. In fact, it's even produced in cooperation with the long-running Fox hit, "America's Most Wanted," which will now be taped in the museum's basement TV studio. The museum is more fun than annoying. But not by terribly much. An $18 ticket that promises visitors the opportunity to shoot a gun, drive a police cruiser and appear...

By Marc Fisher | May 19, 2008; 8:04 AM ET | Comments (15)

Who Let The Dogs On The School Grounds?

Was it the time a golden retriever jumped up and snatched a sandwich from her son's hand at a neighborhood soccer game, startling and scaring the 6-year-old? Was it the incident when dogs outside Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda jumped at her daughter? Or is there some unknown dog trauma in Danuta Wilson's past that explains her crusade? Parents at Westbrook say there must be some rational reason for Wilson's drive to get Montgomery County to stop parents from taking dogs along when they drop off or fetch their children at school. "It's been several years, and she's worked her...

By Marc Fisher | May 18, 2008; 12:59 PM ET | Comments (25)

The News On NPR's Fictional Characters

Bugs Bunny is "the coolest kid in the class." Holden Caulfield is the guy who defined "that in-between place when you're unhappy but not devastated and it's just really hard to sort through." Willy Loman is seen anew, on a cellphone, at the airport, a salesman who "sits up to tap out a new number, and snap open a new smile." In the middle of the news from Iraq and the latest from the presidential race, National Public Radio's programs have been slipping in profiles of some influential but imaginary characters -- fictional figures who have had a deep and...

By Marc Fisher | May 18, 2008; 6:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

DC's Subterranean Jazz Secret

One by one, the landmarks of the Black Broadway, the U Street nightspots and music meccas where jazz had its heyday, are being either restored or rediscovered. After too many decades of neglect, Washington has opened its eyes to a pulsating chapter of its history. First, the Lincoln Theatre was rehabbed and reopened, alas to poor management and tepid success. Then, the Bohemian Caverns club was restored to its original glory. And the District once again promises that the Howard Theatre, the once-magnificent home to the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Redd Foxx, will be...

By Marc Fisher | May 16, 2008; 7:43 AM ET | Comments (3)

The Sales Tax Hike That Rose From The Dead

Six years ago, Northern Virginia voters weighed the pain of sitting in traffic against the bite that would result from a half-cent local sales tax increase to pay for transportation improvements. By a clear majority, they said, Thanks, but no thanks. Now, Gov. Tim Kaine has measured the reality of clogged roads against the message voters sent in 2002. And he's decided that what Northern Virginia needs this time is double the sales tax increase that voters rejected six years ago. Oh, and this time, we won't bother with the messy business of asking voters for their opinion. The easy...

By Marc Fisher | May 15, 2008; 7:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Last Klingle Road Post Ever?

Don't bet on it. The D.C. Council yesterday voted 10-3 to try yet again to end the decades-long debate over whether to repair a city street that happens to go through Rock Creek Park. The street, Klingle Road NW, is both an extremely convenient shortcut for east-west drivers who want to avoid the congestion around Connecticut Avenue, and a bucolic passageway through a surprisingly quiet and green oasis in the heart of the city. You can blame the rain--a big one--for the washout that rendered Klingle Road impassable back in 1990. Add the city's legendary incompetence, and the road...

By Marc Fisher | May 14, 2008; 3:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

WAMU Fires Jonetta Rose Barras

Public radio station WAMU today fired political analyst Jonetta Rose Barras, co-host of the station's popular Friday "Politics Hour" with Kojo Nnamdi, in what appears to be a dispute over pay. Barras, a longtime fixture in local media, says she was sacked for seeking to be paid as a full-time employee for her work on the Friday program. "I refused to be an abused worker and not be paid for my worth," Barras says. "I feel I've been discriminated against both because I'm a woman and because I'm black." WAMU spokesman Kay Summers confirms that Barras is leaving the...

By Marc Fisher | May 13, 2008; 1:30 PM ET | Comments (48)

Music Returns To D.C. Schools?

The announcement, made with great fanfare from the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, was dramatic: This spring marks "the return of music to the D.C. public schools," said deputy schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. Applause swept the sold-out hall, and the great jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis stepped to the podium to offer his praise. By embracing music education and turning away from the test-driven narrowing of the curriculum that has so deadened too many classrooms in recent years, the District has found "the way for us to reclaim our soul in this country," Marsalis said. But has music...

By Marc Fisher | May 13, 2008; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (4)

D.C. Chooses Shopping Over Arts

When the District tore down its old downtown convention center and opened a much larger one in the Shaw-Mt. Vernon Square neighborhood, then-mayor Tony Williams said that the new hole in the center of the city had to be filled with some powerful people magnet--a museum, library, arts center or performance space that would lure workers to stay downtown after business hours and attract suburbanites to come hang out downtown. But when the final plan for the site, now dubbed City Center DC, was announced this morning, Mayor Adrian Fenty scrapped that people magnet piece of the puzzle and...

By Marc Fisher | May 12, 2008; 2:09 PM ET | Comments (13)

Time To Start Over on MLK Statue

Martin Luther King was never an arms-folded kind of man. He was never one to tighten up against slings of opposition, never one to choose a cocky or grandiose pose. Leaf through hundreds of photos of the man, and you see him standing before oceans of Americans, one arm raised to the sky, his mouth open in a call to unity. He reaches forward, rallying, cajoling, explaining. Or he is leaning in, head to head with Lyndon Johnson, and you can almost hear King, the gentle voice, the rock-hard logic. Nowhere do I find King depicted the way a sculptor...

By Marc Fisher | May 11, 2008; 8:19 AM ET | Comments (75)

Video Unlikely To Go Viral: The Tim Kaine Channel

Psst, pass it on: Check out the video from Tim Kaine. No, Virginia's governor isn't doing stupid human tricks. Rather, he's got his own YouTube channel where you can, for example, find Kaine expounding on the importance of saving energy. It's pretty stultifying, standard fare: Use efficient bulbs, the always-popular "set your thermostat a little higher in the summer," and, of course, use mass transit. This is about four rungs below public access cable fare. But wait, the Kaine Channel has better programming, if you hunt around a bit. Here's the governor hanging out with kids in the AP...

By Marc Fisher | May 9, 2008; 7:42 AM ET | Comments (7)

Ping Pong Politics On Connecticut Avenue

The grainy video, shot at night from across Connecticut Avenue, reveals the menace -- caught on tape, posted on YouTube for all to see. The danger, the violation of public space, the unchecked liability, all now undeniable. Yes, it is true: For more than a year, James Alefantis, owner of the Comet Ping Pong pizza place at Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW, kept a Ping-Pong table on the sidewalk in front of his eatery. And people played Ping-Pong on that table. In public. With their children. Laughing and smiling as if everything were just fine. And they did this without...

By Marc Fisher | May 8, 2008; 7:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pants Update: Pants Man Sues City

It's the media's fault, of course. If it weren't for the worldwide media hysteria over Roy Pearson's $54 million pants suit against his neighborhood dry cleaners, why, he'd still have his job as an administrative law judge for the District of Columbia. So says Pearson in a federal lawsuit filed this week. Pearson, who has been keeping to himself since losing both his lawsuit against Custom Cleaners and his job last year, has emerged from his Northeast home to demand a cool million from the city that pushed him out of a job last fall. You may recall that in...

By Marc Fisher | May 6, 2008; 5:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

The D.C. Quarter: A Brief For The Duke

My vote for Frederick Douglass as the least offensive of the three weak finalists to be on the D.C. quarter may be in line with the plurality of Post readers' opinions, but there are strong voices in favor of another candidate, Duke Ellington, and Palisades resident Michael Dolan has penned a strong brief in favor of the Duke. Dolan, the author of "The American Porch," an eloquent tribute to a great and important American institution, makes his case like this: Marc -- All due respect to Messrs. Banneker and Douglass, you are WAAAAY wrong to pick either of them...

By Marc Fisher | May 6, 2008; 12:26 PM ET | Comments (4)

Arlington Dems Told To Sign Loyalty Oath

Last fall, when Virginia's Republican Party proposed to require voters in its presidential primary to sign a pledge promising that they would support the party's nominee, Democrats called the maneuver a "slap in the face to voters." Bruised by criticism from Democrats, independents and Republicans alike, the GOP backed off--there would be no loyalty oath. So imagine the surprise of some Democrats in Arlington last weekend when they arrived at a party caucus to select school board candidates and found themselves confronted with... a loyalty pledge. "For the first time in my 42 years as a voter I have...

By Marc Fisher | May 6, 2008; 7:21 AM ET | Comments (29)

Weak Choices, But Douglass For D.C. Quarter

First, the U.S. Mint nixed "Taxation Without Representation" as the slogan for the D.C. quarter. Now, the Mint has narrowed the choices for the design of the coin's reverse to three figures from the city's history: Benjamin Banneker, Duke Ellington, and Frederick Douglass. Each has his merits, of course, but this is a weak field. The problem is not any lack of achievement on the part of the candidates; no, it's the tenuousness of their connections to the District, which are important but way too brief (Banneker), an accident of birth that had little meaning in his ultimate accomplishments...

By Marc Fisher | May 5, 2008; 7:46 AM ET | Comments (37)

28 Houses In 51 Minutes: No Buyers, No Bidders

Twenty-eight houses sold in 51 minutes, each auction the final spin in a harrowing death spiral for 28 families that believed just a year or so ago that they had found security and comfort. On a blustery spring afternoon at the edge of a parking garage in Upper Marlboro, eight people stood in a semicircle in front of the auctioneers whose job it was to sell off the houses those 28 families couldn't pay for anymore. Each person in the audience -- all professional house buyers who travel the circuit of courthouse auctions -- spent the hour glued to a...

By Marc Fisher | May 4, 2008; 8:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Web's Spiritual Grandfather: AM Radio

The flat voice of a police officer reading off the blotter contrasts starkly with the smooth introduction from the professional announcer who precedes him on the air: "8:09 p.m., report of juveniles setting fire to a pile of papers behind an apartment complex; 3:14 p.m., Annapolis police respond to report of an argument. The man violently resisted efforts to place him in the police car." It's the morning police report coming to you "from Radio Park" on Annapolis's hometown station, WNAV (1430 AM), one of a dwindling number of intensely local voices of the sort that used to dominate the...

By Marc Fisher | May 3, 2008; 8:36 AM ET | Comments (4)

Metro Of The Future: Beyond Silver & Purple

Given that it's taking decades to extend Metro rail to Dulles Airport or to connect the two limbs of the Red Line, it hardly seems prudent to predict that the region's transit system might expand even more ambitiously in the coming years. But Daniel Malouff, an urban planner for the city of Fairfax who runs an inventive blog looking at the future of the Washington region, has come up with a sprawling vision for Metro's future that includes a tight web of new light rail and streetcar lines that would finally relieve many suburbanites of the exasperated plaint, "But...

By Marc Fisher | May 2, 2008; 8:23 AM ET | Comments (33)

Live! My Friend Jeff's Root Canal

It had to come to this. Jeff Gates, who way back in 2000 won some sort of place in the history books by becoming the first person to auction off his demographic information on eBay, is today twittering his root canal. Which means that he is narrating the procedure for anyone who might care to tune in. I am going to go out on a limb here and declare that Jeff is the first person to do this. I will not argue that this was a scintillating bit of....what? journalism? memoir? voyeurism? art? "In chair, waiting for endodontist" "Numbing...

By Marc Fisher | May 1, 2008; 5:03 PM ET | Comments (3)

Tour Guide Revolution: Working For Tips

With a little bit of rap (about King George III, of all people: "He was a meany and we were so teeny"), a healthy but not overbearing dose of history and a whole lot of nerve, two recent college graduates are rattling the genteel world of Washington tour guides. Ben Hindman and Brody Davis are giving tours for free. Working only for tips, the two friends in bright orange caps are attracting tourists who find themselves on the Mall knowing little more than that the really tall one has to do with Washington; the squat, columned one is where Forrest...

By Marc Fisher | May 1, 2008; 7:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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